diamond geezer

 Thursday, August 11, 2016

Pymmes Brook
Monken Hadley → Arnos Grove → Tottenham Hale (4½ miles)
[Pymmes Brook → Lea → Thames]

Pymmes Brook is one of North London's longer rivers, though not especially well known. It flows mostly through Barnet and Enfield, for the most part above ground, then somewhere around Edmonton heads underground before emerging as a tamed brutalist channel. A ten mile waymarked route follows the brook downstream - the Pymmes Brook Trail - the first half quite pleasant and the second part rather less so. Today I'll write about the half of the walk you might actually enjoy. Should you fancy following along, Barnet Council alas no longer publish their free trail leaflet, so walkers have to make do with a slowly decaying set of signs and some online maps which aren't 100% accurate. I got by well enough.

The source of Pymmes Brook is at Monken Hadley, a hilltop village on the very northern edge of London. Officially this first tributary is called the Monken Mead Brook, a minor streamlet which rises on private land and then curves east through the commuter suburb of Hadley Wood. The Pymmes Brook Trail ignores all of this, and rightly so, kicking off instead some distance away at Cockfosters station. A set of signs points the way from the bus stop outside to the edge of Monken Hadley Common, following precisely the same route as London Loop section 16 if you've ever walked that. The last quarter of a mile down a wooded track to the valley floor is splendid, and possibly the only part of the entire walk that might muddy your trainers in winter. It's a fine start.

The trail proper kicks off at a narrow footbridge just below Beech Hill Lake. You won't immediately spot the lake unless you've got a map, but if you take a few steps upstream you'll reach the dam of a long blue pool tapering off into the distance, its surface liberally dotted with lilies and waterfowl. I stepped up, only to be eyed suspiciously by the anglers who've adopted this place as their own, so slipped uncomfortably away. Instead I started my long walk south along the river, passing a couple of school entrances (and several butterflies) before entering a housing estate where undeveloped countryside abruptly terminated.

The avenues of outer Cockfosters are pleasant enough, and well-served by meandering bus. Here the Pymmes Brook Trail signals its intent not to strictly follow its eponymous waterway by diverting into a neighbouring recreation ground, ostensibly because the view is better. And indeed it is, if you like sunbathing space, gasholders and a fenced-off water fountain. Victoria Rec is also the location of the East Barnet Valley Bowls Club, whose somewhat retro admission procedure requires you to drop your contact details into their letterbox and await a phone call.

Returning to the streets, the brook runs out of sight behind Crescent Road, where the contours provide adequate opportunity for a hillstart, and a couple of houses have such steeply-sloping gardens that their garage is at first floor level. Ahead are Brookhill and Cat Hill, similarly inclined, and the attractive heart of East Barnet Village. This slightly old-fashioned retail parade clusters around the war memorial and some dazzlingly pristine flowerbeds, and boasts an actual gunshop called Gunshop for all your suburban rifle and revolver needs.

It should be obvious where to go next - one of the adjacent roads is called Brookside. A run of semi-detached houses faces a large lawn tumbling down towards the re-emergent river. Looking across it's clear that the brook has carved a significant notch in the local landscape, however humble its waters now seem. This becomes even clearer ahead at Oak Hill Park, the largest recreational space along the route, and much loved in summer by the local populace, their offspring and their dogs. Nowhere else does Pymmes Brook look more like a proper river, ambling in a shallow channel beneath dangling willows, the contrails of passing jets reflecting in its rippled surface. Oak Hill's a good place for a rest, or a diversion up the woodland trails, or an ice cream from the pitch and putt.

Departing the park, the brook returns to residential streets. Specifically it forms a dividing line between two unimaginatively-named streets called West Walk and East Walk, each with semis on one side and a broad communal lawn stretching down to the river on the other. You'll see this kind of landscaping on several other London estates, but here it's particularly nicely done, not least thanks to the green-painted very-mid-20th-century design of the ironwork on several of the low bridges. Officially this grassy gap, named Everleigh Walk, is to prevent flooding affecting the adjacent properties, although the gradient suggests the west side is in considerably more danger than the east should this ever happen.

Take note of the bleached-out waymarking signs on Osidge Lane and head to the left-hand bank of the river to continue. This is to follow the Waterfall Walk, a mile of uninterrupted weaving tarmac which, though very pleasant, could perhaps be challenged under the Trade Descriptions Act. I neither heard nor saw any waterfalls, nor even anything vaguely weir-like, although the river itself was well shielded throughout, breaking out only occasionally through thick seasonal undergrowth. Much more obvious was the tinder-dry meadow at the northern end, gradually narrowing as the back garden fences of Osidge residences creep closer and a tennis club squeezes in.

And then come the arches, 34 lofty brick arches which are first seen spanning Waterfall Road. Here they enter Arnos Park, which might be a clue to the railway floating overhead, and the tube station just around the corner. That's Arnos Grove, and the occasional rattles overhead belong to Piccadilly line trains, indeed you might well have passed this way on your journey to the start of the Trail. This is the Arnos Park Viaduct, opened in 1933 when the Underground extended north, and one of the architectural wonders of the London borough of Enfield. It looks quite impressive from the side, but the best thing is that you can walk underneath and step through a chain of umpteen smaller arches.

After half a dozen or so arches on the western side the Pymmes Brook wiggles through, undertaking two right-angled turns to pass smoothly with minimum erosion on the brickwork. The trail doesn't cross back over but you should, and take your camera, to grab a few special geometric shots as the sequence of gradually diminishing spaces curves off into the shadows.

Head up to the shallow end and you might be tempted to join the Arnos Bowling Club, who offer "free coaching and tea" if the banner facing the viaduct is to be believed. Or take a look around the extensive parkland before deciding where best to head next. The Underground's most magnificent station building is but a short walk away, and there'd be no disgrace in bailing here, because the best miles of the Pymmes Brook Trail are behind us. A great all-seasons stroll, I'd say, as many of the outward-looking residents of outer north London know well.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream